By Ochereome Nnanna
The Chairman of the Council of Traditional Rulers from the South East zone, HRM Dr. Cletus Ilomuanya, has been on the move with some of his colleagues. Recently, they toured the South West where they met with a number of Yoruba Obas and discussed issues of common interest between the Igbo and Yoruba peoples.
During the tour, Eze Ilomuanya advocated something that many people found astonishing but which got my quiet applause. He called on his colleagues outside the Igbo geographical enclave to stop according recognition to the rash of so-called eze ndi-Igbo (traditional rulers of Igbo people) that are sprouting like tares in their domains.
I was equally gratified to note that some traditional rulers, in their replies to this call, promised to withdraw such recognition and to bar individuals parading themselves as such from their palaces.
Eze Ilomuanya has been openly criticised by one of the holders of this comical title in Lagos State, Chief Hyacinth Ohazulike.
Rather than show the cultural and historical roots and importance of Eze Igbo of Lagos which he parades himself as, he listed the services he has performed to the Igbo people, pointing out that his coronation was duly performed by traditional rulers from Igboland.
That, to me is neither here nor there since Ohazulikeâ€™s demonstration of his love for the Igbo people has never been questioned by anyone.
The point of the matter is that those who went into the eze ndi Igbo venture adopted a misguided option to solve the problem of providing direction to Igbo people outside Igboland. It was a need that became glaring in the 1990s when prominent Igbo leaders such as Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr. Akanu Ibiam, Dr. M. I. Okpara, Sam Mbakwe (Ph.D) and others were either dead or getting too old to lead. People started complaining that Igbos were getting difficult to organise because of what they called the Igbo enwe eze (Igbos have no kings) syndrome.
This is an erroneous conception because while some parts of Igboland have kings others do not. Some are now adopting the kingship model. My part of Igboland (Abiriba) has it (the Enachioken) but it is not one of the adopted kingships.
It predates the foundation of the town itself. But those who did not have it had a republican sort of arrangement whereby eldersâ€™ councils ran the affairs of such communities in a democratic fashion. When the Igbo people started venturing out into the Diaspora in large numbers between the 1930s and 1960s the town union system was adopted as a means of coordinating activities of various communities anywhere they found themselves.
There emerged a central body known as the Igbo State Union (ISU). It was so well organised that it was accused by the Federal Commissioner for Information in the General Yakubu Gowon civil war time cabinet, Chief Anthony Enahoro, of being used by the Igbo elite in the 1960s to dominate the affairs of this nation and orchestrate the first military coup, which was staged mainly by Igbo officers in January 1966.
When the Igbos were in disarray in the 1990s, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu decided to crown himself king of the Igbos. He became the first Eze Ndi Igbo. Later, he started setting up these urban traditional institutions outside Igboland and promptly transformed into Eze Igbo Gburugburu (overall king of the Igbos). Many people, Igbos and non-Igbos alike, were truly amused.
The eze ndi Igbo institution has not solved the problem it set out to do. Rather, it has become a source of further division as anybody who has the means and supporters can announce himself as one in any city. And this is causing irritation among the owners of the land where these â€œforeignâ€, artificial monarchs are engaged in chieftaincy tussles. Some are afraid that some day, these upstart â€œtraditional rulersâ€ might start laying claim to things to which they are not entitled, as experience has shown.
The eze ndi Igbo concept was simply copied from the Hausa culture. The people behind it are mainly those who (like Ojukwu) were born in Northern Nigeria. Hausa people settle in colonies when they travel and live outside their cultural domains. Each of these colonies has its sarkin Hausawa (the Hausa variant of eze Ndi Igbo). In the same vein, they reserve a part of the towns within their cultural homelands for strangers, which are known as sabon gari.
They do this to maintain their cultural purity and protect their Islamic heritage. Whether this is germain to national integration is up for debate. But it has often been a source of communal conflicts between them and their host communities because after a long period of living in these colonies they start making claims that the natives find objectionable. We have seen it in Jos, Sagamu, Ibadan and other places.
Jesus Christ in the Bible declares: â€œMan, know thyselfâ€. Igbos, know yourselves. You are republican democrats, not monarchists.
Even where you have kings in Igboland, they are never absolute monarchs in the mould of Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani kings. They are Ezes-in-council or democratic monarchs. This is the culture of the people of South East and South-South (except the Benin monarchy which is related to Ife).
Igbos should return to the spirit that made the Igbo State Union great, respected, even feared. The Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo is a wonderful, handy and appropriate platform to coordinate the affairs of Igbo in the Diaspora. Igbos should support it because it is more suited to their cultural way of life in the Diaspora.
They should leave the Hausa culture to the Hausa people because as the great economist Dr. Pius Okigbo loved to say: â€œYou cannot promote a donkey to a horseâ€!